Death by Beuger

I’ve stopped listening to music while I run; I find it too easy to lose perspective; music flits against concentration that’s hard-earned, heard in the creak of lungs, and felt in the lactic acid in calves. I’ve been taking it easy this last month – the amount I run is inversely proportional to the amount of snow that falls, and in Ashland it snows a lot. But I squeaked out a little over five miles yesterday anyway. I ran through part of the Chequamegon bay forest, where an atv trail carves a straight line northwest into Superior. In the summer you can count the tiny, dried-up snapping turtles that die dusty and alone, their heads lolling to either side as you prod them with your toe. I cut across a field, horses lolling by their troughs, and out onto the shore of Lake Superior, where I pushed past Ashland’s superfund site where a mass of oil timbers are cocooned and malignant in the clay-rich soil. One could almost forget there was anything wrong, a thick layer of snow covering the black sands that mark its tomb. The snow can’t hide the massive ore dock that sits crumbing and monolithic in the distance. And it can’t hide the power plant and its mountains of cheap wood pulp they burn to create the steam that ends up belching out over the lake, massive turbines humming. But this is Ashland, completely ill at ease with itself, profiting gleefully from natural splendor while doing it’s damndest to fuck it all up.

I’ve always thought of a lot of what I write about on this thing as a kind of urban music, more comfortable in a city’s crush of humanity than out here, if not in the middle of nowhere, than right next to it. Part of this comes from the fact that most of it is made in cities like Tokyo or New York or Vienna or Seoul and seems to reflect a certain acetic neurosis, an idle abstraction. It feels so caught up in itself that it finds itself alone in a crowd, humming. Maybe another reason I don’t listen to music while I run anymore– I don’t quite feel like shutting off like I did when I lived in cities. I didn’t feel the need to escape into shape and form, into the Big Idea. I get tired of the Big Ideas. I like a little room to breathe.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been listening to Antoine Beuger’s un lieu pour Être deux a lot lately. Usually on low volume, allowing it to brush up against my spine—Ben Owens’ field recordings sinking into Ashland’s own small downtown discourse; while Barry Chabala’s guitar in its minute detail startling me, as mysterious in its motivations as the pigeons across the street that suddenly, inexplicably rise off the tar roof to swarm and dip in perfect unison. That is not to say Beuger isn’t about big ideas. That’s obviously not true, but I haven’t the first fucking clue what they are. And I have little interest in finding out. I prefer to listen to this composition as if it allows me to make my own meaning from it. Sorry, dudes.

The subtleness and use of space brands it Wandelweiser– but it’s not the stereotypical minimal anemia. Light tones, integrations of familiar field recordings, guitar plucks are all reminiscent of some Michael Pisaro’s increasingly impressive work, but there is an airier quality here. It’s unforced and refreshingly easy to find some path through its space. I’m used to that feeling with so much of the music that comes from this area of composition, but it’s so rarely captivating; it’s so rarely as generous. What I take from the little of Beuger’s work that I’ve heard (as well as Pisaro’s) is the attention to mundane, to the subtle inflection the music can cast spatially and temporally on everyday life. The sounds create a shading effect to reality, a reinterpretation of normality. Not to say it’s some tired psychedelic journey through Visnu’s asshole (leave that to Keenan or something), but it seeps into one’s space. I’m reminded of Sachiko’s Bar Sachiko, which has a similar effect, albeit much harsher and more angular (unheralded classic if you ask me). However, what’s apparent is its universality, as at home in this small town as Berlin or Hanoi or Chicago.

I understand that music should be independent of place, but we all know it can’t be. Where we are colors our understanding of music as much as our mood at the time. And some things do just work better in an environment suited for it – as much as I dig Blasphemy or Beherit, it makes far less sense wandering out in the woods than it does wandering around downtown Chicago looking for a place to take a piss. But this album seems to shirk these aspects, centering itself in a universality of life. It’s as if the “synthesized tones” simply filter and compliment a day watching those pigeons dip and sway; it’s as if the guitar twinge is a simply a punctuation, exclamation on a sip of coffee at the café. And while one could say that’s all well and good for you, but where’s the music? Thankfully, it’s remarkably musical. It just allows room for the audience. And most music doesn’t do that. Thankfully, there are musicians around like Chabala and Owen who seem to tune into just that, and keep a concise but open interpretation to the score. Letting it breathe for us.

This would be an interesting album to go running to now that I think about it. I’d probably end up sitting in a snow bank, watching the sky, pontificating on the consensus reality of soap on the rope, freezing to death. Death by Beuger. But there’s probably worse ways to go.

You should probably buy this from the excellent copy for your records


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